As you walk around Bogotá on a clear day, through the bustling colonial streets of La Candelaria or the leafy parks in the north of the city, there‘s one thing you can never fail to notice. Bogotá’s mountains loom large over the city, peaking through gaps in buildings at every corner, serving as a reminder that life doesn’t end where Bogotá ends. For many travelers, life only just begins once you step outside the city’s perimeters.
But the mountains only hint at the range of outdoor activities available for the traveler on a trip to Bogotá. It’s a little known fact that of all the cities in the world, Bogotá boasts the most options for going on day-long excursions. Indeed, there’s a wealth of options for you to choose from, including waterfalls, colonial villages, mountain treks and much, much more.
About 60km from Bogota, Suesca is a relaxed countryside town, bathed in sunshine with some delightfully fresh cool winds. While it is a great place to go camping and relax in a tranquil, beautiful setting, it is much better known as the best place to go rock climbing in Bogotá.
What makes this such a great destination, apart from the fact that it is so easily accessible for weekend or day trips from the capital, is that there are climbing opportunities for all levels. In fact, Las rocas de Suesca has over 400 different climbing routes so it never gets crowded and there is something for everyone.
The cliffs run alongside an abandoned railway track, giving the location a surreal feel, almost like something out of a Western. Local vendors wander the tracks offering climbers empanadas and fresh fruit juice.
Even if you are not into climbing, this is a fantastic place to go walking or mountain biking, with some spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. You can either head there early and spend the day taking part in some activities or, if that seems too strenuous, you could spend the night camping under the stars in the quiet Suesca night. Lovely.
Zipaquira Salt Cathedral
About an hour and a half from Bogota is the fairly unassuming, yet attractive, town of Zipaquira, often simply called Zipa. However, it’s not the town itself that people come to visit, but its famous salt cathedral.
At the same time terribly gaudy and incredibly fascinating, it makes for an interesting day trip from the capital. Even before the Spaniards founded the town in the early 17th century, salt was being mined in this area. After several excavations and the establishment of the town, a shrine was erected to Nuestra Señora del Rosario, the patron saint of miners.
Work on the cathedral began in 1950 although it was closed in 1990 after periodic deterioration of the salt and stone. It was reopened a few hundred metres away in 1995 and now it draws in hundreds of tourists and worshippers. It follows the 14 Stations of the Cross with a special section for each one. Within each of these there is a large cross, all sculpted by a different Colombian artist.
There are also several other sections, including a functioning nave and altar, with gigantic and imposing pillars and a 16 metre high cross. The cathedral is dimly lit, while the crosses and sculptures are illuminated in a number of colours, giving it a solemn yet kitsch feel. Entrance to the cathedral includes a guided tour, although you might be better off sneaking away from the group and discovering the mine yourself.
Worth a wander too is the quaint town. It has a charming central square, different to most thanks to the undulating design that makes it look more like a skate park than a colonial plaza. On one side of the square you will find a unique stonework church with a modern interior and there are a number of cafes and restaurants for you to relax in after a day exploring the cathedral.
La Chorrera is Colombia’s tallest waterfall and for hikers and adventurers keen for some trekking in Bogotá, it’s well worth a visit. The journey itself is for the most part on foot, and in total takes roughly 1 hour and 15 minutes. You’ll need to have a lift arranged for you to navigate the journey through cloud forests to the other side of Bogotá’s mountains, but once you’re there you begin a 45 minute trek to the first stop off point.
Here you’ll find a helpfully located restaurant where you can get a good meal for around $13000 pesos. Once you’re sufficiently rested, you’ll take another half an hour to reach the waterfalls. The views here are magnificent and you can even walk through the waterfalls to discover what lies behind them. For the brave it’s also possible to swim but be warned, it’s pretty cold.